Argentina’s Maritime Unions Renew Strikes Demanding COVID Vaccinations

strike in Argentina ports over vaccinations
Rosario port in Argentina (CAPyM)

Published Jun 18, 2021 3:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

Argentina’s ports are again paralyzed by the latest in a series of strikes organized by the maritime unions as they seek to pressure the government to prioritize workers in the ports and maritime trades for COVID-19 vaccinations. A total of 16 unions representing the pilots, tug boats, dockworkers, and customs officials, banded together to hold a 24-hour strike on Friday, June 18 repeating their calls on the government to follow through on earlier promises to prioritize their members for vaccinations.

“Despite the multiple meetings held, within the framework of the Vaccination and Immunization Plan for COVID 19, the port, maritime and naval workers demand a response from the authorities, as essential workers,” wrote the Maritime Port Federation and the Naval Industry of the Argentine Republic (FeMPINRA) in announcing the nationwide job action. In May, prior to starting the job actions, FeMPINRA had said that it had reached its limit on the number of deaths among members and their families and was no longer going to standby while members who were performing jobs essential to the economy were being passed over and dying.

The union was encouraged in its efforts by the recent success of the international, long-haul truck drivers, who had staged similar strikes. The truck drivers recently blocked a major boarder crossing to Brazil demanding better health procedures and controls along with prior to the vaccines. They reported that less than one-in-three truck drivers had received a COVID-19 vaccination. After meeting with government representatives, it was announced that they had agreed to provide an additional 4,600 vaccinations to be used for the international truck drivers carrying commence across the border. 

Argentina has been struggling with increasing cases during a new wave of the virus that began in late March. Although the case load peaked in late May with a 7-day average of over 30,000, the pace of cases continues to average over 20,000 new cases a day. The government recently announced that it would be administering vaccinations at a rate of 1,000 per day for members of the military and security forces.

The union representing the workers who move the grains in the major ports has repeatedly expressed its concern that the government was not including its members on the priority list for essential workers. They highlighted that agriculture is Argentina’s largest foreign export and a major contributor to the economy, yet their members and families were being regularly put at risk by not being included in the prior categories.

A port official speaking to Reuters said that today’s strike meant that they again would not be able to dock and undock vessels. The strike was centered on the agricultural ports of San Lorenzo and Rosario. Local media said it was uncertain if the action would also spread to the major sea ports, including Necochea and Bahia Blanca, which have also been seeking vaccinations and requiring vessels to undergo a 14-day quarantine before arrival.

The first strike in the ports came in late May lasting for a day and was followed a week later by a two-day strike. The tug boat captains and customs officials staged an additional work stoppage. Further efforts had been posted after government officials said they would prioritize the maritime industry workers. The unions are saying that they will continue to stage these demonstrations until the government fulfills its promise to include workers in the maritime sector among the priority list.